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NJ Shore beach erosion repairs underway

In this April 29, 2010 photo, a bulldozer moves sand on a beach in Belmar, N.J. Up and down New Jersey's coast, shore towns are repairing damage to their beaches caused by a series of winter storms before the tourists arrive on Memorial Day weekend. Erosion caused some beaches to shrink by as much as 75 feet over the winter.
May 1, 2010 10:17:27 AM PDT
Up and down New Jersey's coast, shore towns are racing to repair damage to their beaches from a series of winter storms before the tourists arrive on Memorial Day weekend. Erosion shrank some beaches as much as 75 feet over the winter, but experts expect at least some of that to gradually return to the shore.

To speed things up, a brigade of bulldozers, front-end loaders and dump trucks has been pushing, scooping and dumping sand to shore up dunes and beaches that lost sand to the storms.

When the hordes of vacationers descend on the area on Memorial Day weekend, May 29-30, they will find plenty of room to frolic, said Stewart Farrell, director of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Coastal Research Center.

"The beach is still going to be there, but it's going to be a little narrower," he said. "But it will come back."

It had better. Tourism is a $39 billion industry in New Jersey, and the shore accounts for a large portion of that total.

Jon Miller, a coastal scientist with the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium/New Jersey Sea Grant, said this past winter was the worst on record for beach erosion and storm wave energy.

"It was bad - really bad - but it could have been worse," he said.

Miller said a November storm was the most powerful to hit New Jersey beaches since the December 1992 nor'easter, a famously destructive storm that washed away beaches, wrecked boardwalks, smashed sea walls and flooded homes.

But the two worst storms last winter affected different parts of the coast. The November storm pounded southern beaches, while the March storm did more damage along the northern coast.

In Belmar, public works employee Rod McCann spent the past three weeks using a front-end loader to move tons of sand back onto the beaches from where it had piled up 3 to 4 feet high along a dune fence and the boardwalk.

"A lot of the beach got pushed up to the dunes, and we had to push it back," he said. "It was piled up pretty big."

The sand is now spread evenly along the beaches, filling in large sections that had washed out over the winter. A bit to the south in Sea Girt, bulldozers have restored an artificial dune line along wooden fencing, and crews turned their attention last week to repainting the weathered boardwalk benches a dazzling white.

Ocean City, which lost virtually its entire beach in a northern section of town in the November storm, neared completion of repairs on Friday, and is wrapping up a beach replenishment program, as well. Other beach replenishment is due to conclude in Harvey Cedars, on Long Beach Island, by early June.

Upper Township and North Wildwood are undertaking beach repairs without a guarantee the federal government will reimburse them for 75 percent of the multimillion-dollar cost, Farrell said.

And Avalon trucked in tons of sand from a quarry to repair a section of its beach between 17th and 21st streets.

Beyond what public works crews can accomplish from the shoreline, some beaches should eventually recover on their own, because large amounts of sand washed out to sea gradually return to the beaches with the summer tides. But that takes time.

"Unfortunately, when it comes to complete beach recovery, the process can be agonizingly slow," Miller said.

He added that the beaches will undoubtedly look different from last summer.

"The important lesson that we can take away from this past winter is that the coastline is a dynamic landscape, and we can be lulled into a false sense of security that the way it looks today is the way it will look tomorrow."

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